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- A March on London - 30/56 -
and will then ride home and see how my father has fared. I have little fear that any harm has befallen him, for his magic would frighten the rioters even more than our swords. Well, our armour has stood us in good stead, Albert. When we charged the first time I was several times struck with bill-hook and pike, and more than one arrow shivered on my breast- piece, but I found that the blows all fell harmless, and after that I wasted no pains in defending myself, but simply struck straightforward blows at my opponents."
"I found the same, Edgar; the weapons glanced off the armour as a stone would fly from a sheet of strong ice."
For a while they rode slowly to give their horses time to recover wind. When they had done so, they rode more rapidly, and, keeping a straight line--they had before ridden a devious course in pursuit--they arrived in an hour at the castle. Here they found that most of the horsemen had already returned. Two hundred bodies lay dead on the ground over which they had charged so often; and when notes were compared they calculated that no less than five hundred of the rioters had been slain.
"I think we shall hear no more of rioting in this neighbourhood," Sir Ralph said, grimly. "If the king had but taken my advice and ridden out to Blackheath with his knights and half the garrison of the Tower, and with such aid as the loyal citizens would have furnished him, he and the city would have been spared the humiliation that they have suffered. One blow struck in time will save the need of twenty struck afterwards. Had we but killed a thousand on Blackheath it would have spared us the trouble of slaying perhaps ten times that number now; would have saved the lives of many honourable gentlemen throughout the country, to say nothing of the damage that has been wrought in London. So you are riding home, Edgar? You are right, lad; I trust you will find all quiet there."
"Would you like twenty of my men to ride with you?" the alderman asked.
"No, thank you, Sir Robert; my father, who, as I told you, is a man of science, has prepared sundry devices, any one of which would terrify these peasants out of their wits; and if they have troubled him, which is like enough, I will warrant that he has given them as great a scare as we have given these fellows to-day."
"At any rate, Edgar, you had best take a fresh horse. Yours has done a good day's work, indeed; and it is just as well that you should bestride an animal that can carry you off gaily should you fall in with another party. There are half a dozen in the stalls. I don't suppose they have been out since we have been away; besides, methinks that after such hot work as we have been doing a cup of wine will do us all good."
Edgar, therefore, rode into the castle, and while he was taking a cup of wine and a hasty meal in the hall, Sir Ralph's servitors changed his saddle to a fresh horse, and the lad then started for home. Confident as he felt, it was still a great satisfaction to him to see that no signs of violence were visible as he approached the house. The door in the gate was indeed closed, contrary to usual custom.
Dismounting, he rung the bell. A small grille in the door opened, then the servitor's head appeared.
"Now then, Andrew, what are you staring at? Why don't you open the gate?"
"I was not sure that it was yourself, Master Edgar. In that grand helmet I did not at first make you out. Well, I am glad that you have come back safely, young master, for we heard of parlous doings in London."
"Yes, I have come back all right. I hope that everything has gone on well here."
"Ay, ay, sir; we had a bit of trouble, but, bless you, the master sent them running, most scared out of their senses." And the man burst into a fit of laughter.
"Here, take the horse, Andrew; I must go in to see him."
"Hulloa! hulloa!" Mr. Ormskirk exclaimed; "is this really my son?"
"It is, father; and right glad am I to see you safe and well. I told Sir Ralph that I felt sure you would be able to hold your own here; still, I was very pleased when I saw that the gate stood uninjured, and that there were no signs of attack."
"Has Sir Ralph come back?" Mr. Ormskirk asked; "and knows he that the rabble are besieging his castle?"
"Were besieging, father; for with us came a worthy city knight with a troop of fifty stout men; and we have given the rioters such a lesson that methinks there will be no more rioting in this part of Kent, for from four to five hundred of them have been slain, and I believe all the rest are still running!"
"It was a lesson much needed, Edgar, for after their doings in London these fellows would never have been quiet, had they not been roughly taught that they are but like a flock of sheep before the charge of men- at-arms.
"But whence this armour, my son? Truly it is a goodly suit. My coffer is so low that I know not how I shall make shift to pay for it."
"It is a gift, father, and Albert has one like it. 'Tis of the finest steel, and is, as you see, all undinted, though it has had many a shrewd blow from arrow, bill-hook, and pike in to-day's fight. But the story is a long one to tell, and I pray you, before I begin it, to let me know how matters have fared here, for I hear from Andrew that you have not been left entirely alone."
Mr. Ormskirk smiled. "No, I had a goodly company three days ago. Some hundred of men from Dartford joined, I am sorry to say, by a good share of those at the village, came round here in the evening with the intent, as they were good enough to say, of roasting the witchman in his bed. Andrew had brought me news of their intentions, so I was ready for them. I had gone out and had painted on the door, with that stuff I told you of, the rough figure of a skeleton holding a dart in his hand. It was of the same colour as the door, so that it did not show in the daylight. Then I fixed along on the top of the wall a number of coloured lights that I had seen in use in Italy on fête days, and of which I learned the composition. I had, as I told you before, placed cases of Friar Bacon's powder round the house, and had laid trains to them by which they could be fired from within the wall.
"Had it been dark when they came the skeleton and that skull would have sufficed; but it wanted still an hour before these devices would be of use. I made them out in the distance, and thought that something else would be needed. Therefore I got that Eastern gong that I purchased as a curiosity at Genoa, and lighted a fire in the courtyard. As soon as they approached I threw pitch into the fire, making thereby a great column of smoke, and set Andrew to beat the gong furiously, telling him to shout and yell as he pleased. Then I went to an upper window to observe the effect. The crowd had halted some fifty yards away and stood open-mouthed gazing at the place, and indeed it was no wonder that such ignorant men were scared, for truly the yelling of Andrew and the noise of the gong were enough to frighten anyone who knew not what it meant.
"For some time it seemed to me that they would depart without venturing farther, but some of the bolder spirits plucked up courage and went about among the others shouting that no true Kentish man would be frightened by a noise that meant nothing, they had but to break down the door and they would soon put an end to it. However, the night began to fall before they got fairly in motion, and I went down and prepared to fire the powder should it be needful, and besides I hoisted the skull above the parapet over the gate. Thinking that the light of the phosphorus might not show up well a short distance away, I placed in addition some red fire in the skull. I then got on the wall, and sat down where I could peep out without being seen. Shouting a great deal to encourage each other, they came on until within a few paces of the gate. Then I heard a sudden cry, and those in front pushed back and stood staring at the door as if bewitched; then all ran away some distance. After much talk they came forward again, timidly pointing to the figure as they advanced.
"This was now, doubtless, plain enough to be well made out fifty yards away. There they came to a halt again. Then I called out to Andrew to light the fire in the skull, and set the jaw wagging, having so balanced it, that having been once set going it would wag for two or three minutes before it stopped. Then he ran one way with a brand from the fire, and I the other, and twelve green fires burst out. There was a yell of horror when the skull was made out The alarm was doubtless heightened by the green fire, they having never seen such a thing before, and they started to run wildly off. To hasten their flight I ran down and fired four of the powder cases, which exploded with a noise that might have been heard at Dartford.
"After that Andrew and I went quietly to bed, sure that not another soul would venture to attack the house. Andrew went into the village in the morning. He found that some of the men had been well-nigh killed by fright. All sorts of tales were told of great blazing skeletons that dashed out from the gate with dart in hand, and of a skull that breathed out red fire from a blazing mouth, and grinned and gibbered at them. As to the noises and the ghastly green fire, none could account for them, and I do believe that there is not a villager who would approach within a quarter of a mile of the house after dark, on any condition."
Edgar laughed heartily at his father's account of the success of his defence of the house. Then he said: "I hope, father, that distorted accounts of the affair may not get you into trouble with the Church."
"I have no fear of that, Edgar. I had shown the prior my preparations, and he approved of them heartily, being a man of much broader intelligence than is common. Indeed, he begged of me a pot of my shining paste, and with it painted the stone crucifix over the abbey gateway. And it was well that he did so, for last night some men came out from Dartford with intent to plunder the priory of its deeds and muniments, but on seeing the glowing crucifix, they went off in fear and trembling, and the villagers were saying this morning that the priory had been protected by a miracle, while you see in my case they attribute it to the work of the devil. And now, Edgar, tell me all that has befallen you since you went away."
Edgar related the various adventures that had happened.
When he had concluded, his father said: "Truly, Edgar, you have been fortunate indeed, which is another way of saying that you have skilfully grasped the opportunities that presented themselves. The man who bemoans ill-fortune is the man too apathetic, too unready, or too cowardly to grasp opportunity. The man who is called fortunate is, on the other hand, he who never lets a chance slip by, who is cool, resolute, and determined. During the time that you have been away you have made friends of two
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